House Committee on Education and Labor
U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon
Ranking Member

Fiscally responsible reforms for students, workers and retirees.



Committee Statement

May 6, 2008

CONTACT: Alexa Marrero
(202) 225-4527

McKeon Statement: Hearing on “Do Federal Programs Ensure U.S. Workers Are Recruited First?"

Thank you Chairman Miller, and good morning. For the second time in the 110th Congress, this committee is examining immigration policy in the context of our responsibility for American workers and workplaces.  Specifically, the title of this hearing indicates that our purpose is to examine whether federal programs ensure U.S. workers are recruited before employers hire from abroad.

This morning, we’ll be focusing that question more narrowly on two categories of nonimmigrant workers:  the H-2A program – through which employers may use unskilled foreign workers for agricultural industry – and the H-2B program – which provides for unskilled foreign workers in non-agricultural industries.  These are important categories for examination, with different issues and challenges than those facing other areas of immigration policy, including, for example, skilled foreign workers.

In some ways, this is a timely hearing.  On February 6, 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor announced proposed rules to modernize the application process for and the enforcement of H-2A labor certifications.  One of the goals of that proposed rule is to provide a timely flow of legal workers for agricultural jobs for which no U.S. workers can be found.  That goal is exactly in line with the purpose of today’s hearing, and I’m pleased to see this alignment between the Administration’s goals and this bipartisan intent here in Congress.

Our goal with this hearing today should be to consider both the philosophical and practical considerations of guestworker programs.  Conceptually, there are those who argue that such programs are necessary to reduce illegal immigration while simultaneously filling positions that American workers are unwilling to take on.  There are others who disagree with this premise, believing that if the conditions are right, American workers can be found to take on any job, and that guestworker programs may promote growth in illegal populations by bringing in workers who may overstay their visas.  Each of these viewpoints deserves a thorough debate.

However, our discussion must not stop with the theoretical.  We have a duty to explore the real-world impact of temporary guestworker programs, particularly their economic impact and how they may influence wages and jobs for U.S. workers.  Many of us learned a great deal about these issues during last year’s hearing, when we benefited from the testimony of Dr. James S. Holt, one of the foremost experts on H2-A and H2-B visas.  Sadly, Dr. Holt passed away recently, and I want to take this opportunity to offer my condolences to his family.  His contributions to this field were many.

Looking to the future, it’s important that we ask how successful the current temporary guestworker programs are in meeting their stated goals.  Are employers and the U.S. economy benefiting?  What about individual U.S. workers?

What would be the impact on illegal immigration if current guestworker programs were expanded, or new programs created?

These are all important questions, and that’s why I’m pleased to be here for today’s hearing.  However, it seems to me that the timing of today’s hearing is no coincidence.  In one committee room after another, the Democratic majority has been paying noticeably more attention to the issue of legal and illegal immigration lately.  And while I appreciate the long-overdue focus on these issues of national importance, I feel obligated to point out that hearings are no substitute for real action.

The fact is, Congress has an opportunity to take action on immigration reform by allowing a vote on H.R. 4088, the SAVE Act.  To date, 187 members have signed a discharge petition to bring that bill – offered by a member of the majority party – to a vote by the full House.  Still, the majority has refused to allow an up-or-down vote.

So, while I appreciate the opportunity to examine these issues before us today, I would like to state for the record my disappointment at the majority’s unwillingness to allow real action on immigration reform.  Talk is not enough.  Hearings will not divert the attention of the American people.  We need real action.

I yield back.